Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Transactive Memory

It is common to find couples, families or teams where someone always asks another member about a certain memory, while the opposite happens for a different memory. For example, a mother might always consult his son about computers and technical difficulties, while the father might always consult the mother about his plans for the month. This kind of “shared memory” is named transactive memory, where a group becomes organised in a way to share memory around in an efficient manner. This is usually done by the group reorganising itself so that each member specialises in a certain field, with the other members only remembering that that person is the expert. This means that instead of memorising every field, you can simply remember who is the expert in that field. It is much like learning where the reference text is rather than learning the contents.

Although it may look like dependence, transactive memory is an extremely useful tool in tight groups such as a couple or a small team. By having members specialise in certain domains of knowledge, the group is able to expand their capacity to acquire knowledge and create innovation. Transactive memory allows for a group to become efficient and effective in learning and retrieving knowledge. Overall, it improves decision making processes and the efficiency of the group, allowing for better outcomes. This is achieved by the division of responsibilities from specialising, shortening the time needed for finding the appropriate knowledge (as everyone knows the “guy” or “gal” to go to) and the shared understanding of the teammates regarding the interpersonal relations in the team. This means that everyone knows exactly who to go to for a certain domain of knowledge, while understanding their strengths and weaknesses, allowing for well coordinated interactions. Because of this, transactive memory only works in groups with limited numbers, with the maximum number being similar to the Monkeysphere (150).

Many studies prove the effectiveness of transactive memory. It has been found that couples have much better memory recollection compared to when they are paired with a stranger. In the modern technological era, transactive memory has expanded to the internet, with studies showing that people are more likely to know the source of information (such as Wikipedia) rather than the actual information. Given the ease of access to the internet and large databases containing all the information we need, sometimes it is far more efficient learning how to find these sources rather than rote learning all the information.

Posted in Life & Happiness


In modern ant cities, there can be found many genetic mutations as a result of millennia of division of labour. Thus, ants born with large mandibles that can cut down enemies become soldier ants, while ants born with mandibles that can grind grains become milling ants. Some ants have highly advanced salivary glands and these ants wash and disinfect young larvae.

Here are some examples of the amazing adaptability of ants through the use of mutations:

  • Doorkeeper ants have large, flat heads that can block strategically important entry points to guard the hive. If a worker ant wishes to enter the hive, it must knock on the broad head. If it gives the wrong password, the living door attacks and devours the worker ant.
  • Honeypot ants are found in some tropical ant species. These worker ants are hung upside down on the ceiling and are filled with honey until their abdomens swell up to 20 times the normal size. When another ant comes and strokes the honeypot ant, it releases a few drops of honey it is storing.

However, out of all of these mutations that produce “specialists”, the most noticeable is the mutation that produced specialists of love.
Worker ants are born without the ability to reproduce. This is to prevent these busy worker ants from being distracted from sexual impulses. Reproduction is left to certain ants that do nothing other than reproduce. These ants are the male and female ants – essentially the princes and princesses of the ant kingdom. These ants are born only to make love and have special anatomical features that make the mating process easier. Wings that allow them to fly, antennae that allow the communication of abstract emotions and eyes that can sense infrared light are all examples of this.

How about human beings? We too have “specialists”, but they are not based on features we are born with. Instead, they are a result of the education and upbringing we receive as we grow up – an acquired specialisation rather than a natural one. Then again, it is not as if we are all born equal. Some people are born with a more muscular body that is helpful for labour-intensive work, while others are born with more intelligent brains that are better for jobs that require much thinking. However, our societies have a strange style of oppressing these natural talents and only push study on them. No matter how good a child is at the arts, music or sports, their abilities are ignored and the children are forced to conform into a pre-set path. If a child is introverted and prefer working quietly indoors, they are told off and told to become more extroverted. Ultimately, human societies prefer producing all-round individuals rather than specialists in a certain trade.

But what if we did what ants did and recognise a child’s natural talents and nurture it? The Jewish people have followed a system of education that focusses on helping a child develop their own skill instead of forcing something on them. Considering that 18 of the 40 richest people in USA are Jewish, it could be suggested that this is a very effective form of educating children.

Then why do so many parents want their children to become doctors, lawyers and CEOs? The reason is capitalism. Given the characteristics of the jobs, they are comparatively better paid and more stable than workers and artists. Ergo, parents push children towards such professions “for the sake of their future”. Even though many other professions are required for the smooth functioning of society. If so, could we not equalise the pay of all jobs? Unfortunately, this was tried in communist states but tragically failed as the incentive to study and go into such professions disappeared as the pay was “not worth it”. In fact, the major reason for the downfall of communism was human greed. As ants work for the good of the society rather than the individual, they have the luxury of doing the job they were literally born for and still be well-nourished.

Then what if we paid salaries not equally, but fairly? For example, instead of giving everyone the same pay, we pay people according to the amount of work they do, regardless of the profession. If we distributed the unnecessarily high amounts of wealth of politicians and upper class have to fund the wages of technicians and artists, the income gap between jobs would disappear and children would receive the same reward for whatever profession they chose (given it helps society). If this was implemented, then everyone would be able to bring out their strongest trade and significantly boost productivity. Furthermore, the tragedy of having to give up something you want to do for the sake of money would disappear. If we can find a way to overcome human greed and make equitable distribution of wealth possible, human societies would be able to kill two birds with one stone – progress and happiness.

(first half from the Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber, second half from author’s original thoughts)
(Image Source, see source for description of each letter (professions in French))